Food firms accused of CJD 'conspiracy'

Food firms accused of CJD 'conspiracy'

August 10, 2001 Daily Mail (London) by Sean Poulter

THE food industry was accused yesterday of hampering efforts to investigate the part cheap meat may have played in the spread of BSE.

Senior Government scientists have been investigating links to so-called mechanically recovered meat (MRM), which was used in school dinners, sausages, burgers and pies.

The research could be vital in helping discover why the disease has particularly struck down children and young adults.

So far more than 100 people have been diagnosed with the human form of BSE, known as variant CJD, since a link was established in 1996.

MRM, blasted from carcass bones by high pressure water jets, was used throughout the 1980s and 1990s in cheap meat products and soups.

It is known to have been used by at least one baby food company between 1983 and 1988.

Attempts by scientists from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) to get more precise details from manufacturers about where the meat was used have been 'continually thwarted'.

The tactics have included claims that paperwork has been lost or that details are 'commercially sensitive'.

The firms' reluctance to give information could well stem from the fact they risk serious embarrassment and a huge fall in sales if they are implicated spreading BSE.

Dr Peter Smith, the committee's chairman, said: 'It has been frustrating this is important information to have. It's potentially an important route by which the human population was exposed to the BSE agent.

Fellow member Professor John Collinge added: 'We have asked repeatedly for this information.

The Government has asked on more than one occasion to get this information.

'Both have been given feedback that there is reluctance from the industry to provide full information about this.' The meat industry's tactics, which are being investigated by the Food Standards Agency, have been condemned by consumer groups, MPs and families of vCJD victims.

Annie McVey, whose 15-year-old daughter Claire was the youngest victim to date, said the revelations had destroyed her faith in the food industry.

'We have known for six years that they have been using delaying tactics and are not willing to give anything away,' said Mrs McVey, from Barnstaple, Devon.

'If the whole aim is to raise consumer confidence, they are going about it the wrong way.' The chairman of the Human BSE Foundation, Malcolm Tib-bert, said: 'It's astonishing after all that we have been through that some areas of the industry are still trying to block the investigations.

Mr Tibbert, whose wife Margaret died of the disease, added: 'We need to know what happened in the late 1980s and 1990s so we can see how this disease was spread.' Liberal Democrat MP Paul Tyler said: 'The conspiracy of silence in the meat processing industry is scandalous.

'Not content with bringing the livestock industry to its knees, causing misery to families affected by CJD and costing the taxpayer billions, the meat processing industry appears to want to hide behind the excuse of commercial confidentiality.

'The facts must be brought into the open. Meat processing companies must be forced to face up to the financial consequences of such risky shortcuts.'

Neither SEAC nor the Food Standards Agency would name the companies accused of blocking the investigation.

The British Meat Manufacturers' Association refused to discuss the allegations, issuing a statement saying it would cooperate with the FSA.

'If and when we do receive any information or request that relates to this statement, we shall consider whatever is proposed, and continue to cooper-ate with SEAC and the Food Standards Agency,' it said.

The British Meat Federation was equally reticent. An official said: 'I honestly don't have anything to say about this.'

How sludge ended up in pies and burgers

MECHANICALLY-recovered meat is produced when scraps of tissue and fat are blasted from carcass bones by high pressure water jets.

The process, which involves first breaking down the bones into smaller pieces, results in a dark-coloured sludge which is then sieved to remove any remaining tiny scraps of bone.

It was introduced in the 1960s by meat processors eager to use every part of the carcass.

The sludge contains scraps of tissue, fat and even bone marrow.

Concerns were first raised in 1990 that the process washed tissue infected with BSE from the spinal cord into the sludge.

However, it was not until 1995 that steps were taken to ban the use of MRM taken from the spinal cord of cattle and sheep.

Despite continuing concerns MRM from cattle aged under 30 months, sheep, pigs and chicken is still used in Britain.

The main use of MRM during the 1980s and 1990s was in cheap 'economy' frozen hamburgers, sausages and pies.

The EU has drawn up new labelling rules making it illegal to include MRM in the meat content of sausages, burgers and pies.

The rules are being challenged by the food industry, which claims they will 'confuse' customers.

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